Ash Taylor carried plenty of expectation into the 2018 season. Despite having played just 47 NRL matches, Matthew Johns has predicted Taylor will one day be the “best player in the world”.
He started living up to that talk on Sunday night, laying on four of his side’s five tries in the remarkable 30-28 victory over the Raiders. Two came from his signature close-to-the-line grubber kicks, two from a catch-and-pass from his ankle to find winger Phil Sami and the other a juggle and tip-on to Kevin Proctor.
Yet Gold Coast coach Garth Brennan indicated the hyperbole creators might just slow down a bit on the hysteria after his young halves Taylor and Kane Elgey combined with hookers Nathan Peats and Mitch Rein to dictate the last 45 minutes of Sunday night’s clash on the back of a massive possession turnaround.
So much has been placed on Taylor in the past 12 months - a massive four-year contract, the high praise, and the expectations which includes Brennan asking him to ''own'' the team with his direction and influence.
And his influence in some clutch plays tonight may only enlarge expectations. Yet we can’t expect him to be perfect, and so dominant, all the time, and he is only part-way through a big learning curve.
''He and Kane both did a really good job today; they worked well together and it’s exciting,'' Brennan said.
''But Ash still has a lot of work to do, there were times there where he still needs to work on game management. He was a little bit busted at one stage but he dug in and finished the game well and came up with that big play at the end.''
The level of success Taylor enjoys will be partly determined by the success of the Titans forward pack.
Skipper Ryan James and Brennan admitted that was one area that must improve.
''The boys got a bit star struck and overawed and got outmuscled at the start but I knew the boys had some courage and I saw how they trained in the pre-season and I said from day one they'd never give up,'' Brennan said proudly.
''We were behind the eight-ball and our defensive efforts weren't up to scratch but they dug in and responded which I am very proud of.''
Added James: ''They [Canberra] elected to receive and they obviously planned on running hard and try to beat us down the middle, and they did that in the first 10 minutes. We had to hold on, we knew if we kept the ball and turned their big boys around our fitness would prevail and in the end, we had a couple of clutch plays and got the two points.”